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What happens when British Airways loses your luggage or leaves it behind?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will have seen the widespread travel chaos that has been unfolding at airports nationwide over the past two weeks.

The Easter school holidays have been the busiest travel period in two years and airlines and airports have been struggling to cope.

This is partly because both have faced unprecedented ramp-ups from operating skeleton schedules during the Christmas Omicron wave to operating near to full capacity in April. It is also partly down to lack of staff exacerbated by covid redundancies, a highly competitive job market and increased processing times for staff security clearance (I’ve seen four months mentioned online).

British Airways lost baggage

All of the above has culminated in a travel season that airlines are hoping to forget – even if it’s the busiest they’ve been in the past two years.

Nevertheless, I was loath to waste a four day bank holiday at home so my brother and I decided to visit my grandparents in Stuttgart, flying out on Thursday evening.

Let’s start with the good news ….

…. which is that check in and security at Heathrow Terminal 5 were a breeze.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen Terminal 5 more ‘normal’ that I did on Thursday. There were plenty of flyers but virtually no queues. With many countries removing covid restrictions and ditching passenger locator forms, the burden on check-in staff has reduced significantly and they can return to what they do best – ie. check in customers.

Airside, Terminal 5 was once again heaving with passengers – a return to the pre-covid status quo – including the lounges. It was almost impossible for me and my brother to find a pair of seats together in Galleries First.

Compared to the gigantic security queues and delays seen at airports previously in the week, everything seemed normal. Unfortunately it was anything but normal ….

Help! British Airways left my bags at Heathrow

Deep within the bowels of Terminal 5 British Airways was (and largely still is) dealing with a staffing crisis, and Thursday was a particular crunch point. BA managers instructed baggage handlers to prioritise long haul flights, which meant many short haul flights were going out without luggage being loaded.

Thirteen flights on Thursday went without bags, and unfortunately Stuttgart was one of those affected. It was also delayed by two hours ….

What is bizarre is that nobody operating the flight seemed to know of the baggage issue, even though I had been warned that my flight was one of the thirteen nominated to go without being loaded:

  • The gate staff didn’t know
  • The head loader didn’t know
  • The flight crew didn’t know

Even the pilots didn’t seem to be aware, because no announcement was made at any point during the flight.

The first confirmation I had that my bag had, indeed, been left at Heathrow was with a text from British Airways upon landing:

“We’re very sorry that your bag didn’t arrive on time when you landed today. Please complete a baggage report form online here https://www.britishairways.com/travel/your-missing-baggage/public/en_gb#/report-missing-baggage and make sure you keep your receipts for any essential items you may need to purchase in the time you’re without your bag. If you need to claim back any essential costs you’ve incurred, you can do this at ba.com/helpme. We’re sorry again for any inconvenience this may cause. We’re doing our best to get your bag to you as soon as possible.”

64 checked bags hadn’t been loaded. Oops.

There was also some confusion in Stuttgart at the luggage carousel. Lots of passengers clearly hadn’t checked their phones and were understandably confused. Fortunately, one of the airport staff knew what was going on.

British Airways BA tailfins heathrow T5

How to report your lost or delayed luggage to British Airways

The good news is that BA’s lost baggage portal is surprisingly thorough. You can report your bag delayed here with your name and bag tag identification number. The website will also ask you for identifying features in case the luggage tag is lost, including:

  • type of bag (trolley, duffle, other etc)
  • the colour and material
  • external descriptive elements (eg. bag tag)
  • a distinctive item inside the bag

I was able to report our bags missing within ten minutes on the train into town and received a log of the report.

You can also choose between getting the bags delivered to your home address, a third party address or to the airport where you can pick them up yourself. I chose the second.

What compensation and reimbursement can you get for lost or delayed luggage?

Once you’ve filed the report it’s worth checking what your insurance coverage includes, as you are likely to need to buy some emergency clothes and toiletries.

In this case I was covered by my American Express Business Platinum Card. This came with £300 cover for essential items on a delay of four hours or more followed by a further £300 after 48 hours.

If your insurance does not come with delayed luggage cover then it is also possible to claim from British Airways, although the process is likely to be more of a fight.

Unfortunately, as it was the Easter weekend, I wasn’t able to buy any essential items until Saturday when all the shops reopened. Our bags still hadn’t been delivered so we bought some underwear, t-shirts and other bits and bobs.

How long does it take British Airways to deliver a bag?

The delayed baggage portal claims that most bags are returned within 72 hours. In the end, we got our bags back two and a half days later.

To be fair to British Airways, Germany basically shuts down entirely over the Easter break (they take their bank holidays very seriously).

One of the most frustrating parts of the experience was the lack of communication. Once I had filed the report the portal indicated that are bags were still being searched for:

BA delayed baggage

To make things even more confusing, there is a second baggage portal called worldtracer.aero that some of BA’s communication refers to. Using the same login details, the WorldTracer portal suggested that my bags would be on the next flight to Stuttgart on the following day, indicating that my bags had been found.

It would have been nice for the luggage portal to indicate this and to update the status to something like ‘in transit’ or similar, but frustratingly no progress was shown. If I hadn’t put on my detective hat I would have been very much in the dark.

There was no confirmation that the bags had arrived on the following flight. Again, I was left wondering whether they had made it and I would receive them soon or whether I would have to spend another day without.

Eventually, they were assigned a courier in WorldTracer but – again – no estimated delivery date was given. When I tried to call the Stuttgart Ground Services number given nobody picked up – the phone line had been closed for covid security reasons ….

It was with some relief that I got a phone call on our third day in Stuttgart from the Ground Services to let me know they were planning to deliver that morning. A true Easter miracle!

Even now, though, the BA baggage portal still suggests that the bags are on their way …. even though they were delivered two days ago.

Recap: how to report delayed baggage to British Airways

Here is the process for reporting lost or delayed baggage:

  1. Report the delayed or missing baggage to British Airways via the luggage portal here.
  2. Check your insurance policy for delayed luggage coverage
  3. Buy essential items if necessary, keeping all receipts
  4. Receive your luggage from British Airways (hopefully!)
  5. Begin your insurance claim, either with your insurer or BA

There is a 21-day cut off for reporting delayed or missing baggage, so it’s best to do this as soon as possible. Luggage is officially lost if it hasn’t arrived within 21 days.

Communication, communication and …. communication

So, what have we learned? Whilst BA’s luggage portal got off to a good start, the lack of status updates was incredibly frustrating as we were basically left in the dark on the whereabouts of our luggage and an estimated delivery window.

These days, most couriers are able to give pretty accurate status updates and delivery estimates when you order something online – why can’t airlines do the same?

I accept the issue is slightly more complex – British Airways has to deal with hundreds of third party ground service companies, and integrating all these into a single system sounds like hard work. But it seems like a solvable problem – after all, the bags already have luggage tags on them!

With a simple scanner you’d think BA and ground handlers would be able to scan the bags at every stage of their journey and send updates to customers. It’s something that would take a lot of frustration out of an already-frustrating experience.

Even something as easy as having the pilots announce the issue during the flight would have ensured a much less confusing experience, with pilots or crew helping to explain next steps to passengers.


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Comments (150)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • ashic says:

    You used your platinum insurance for buying stuff. Did yiu get a separate chunk of Avios (or anything else) from BA for the hassle?

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      Amex, and other insurers will usually chase what they can from the airline so even if you claim through insurance it’s unlikely the airline gets away with paying nothing. That said BA have been really generous lately with dishing out Avios. I got some lately for a 2 hour delay caused by ground staff shortages.

  • kt1974 says:

    The pilots *must* know, otherwise they are taking off with a suspiciously empty cargo hold, and miscalculating take off weight… Whether they tell you and risk a riot and/or people wanting to offload themselves is another matter. Even before the current chaos, I’ve had bags left behind – eg a last minute plane change at LGW and the pilots kept stressing that they were hurrying to make their allocated slot. It wasn’t until people were staring at an empty carousel at EDI did some poor third party ground handler come round to say “didn’t they tell you they left half the bags behind?”

  • Max says:

    What’s the deal with this situation, combined with the rule that bags must be accompanied by their owner on the same flight for security reasons?

    • Mike White says:

      When the bags are eventually sent onwards they are firstly scanned through a special more intensive scanner to ensure nothing funky is inside. In the US the bags are often opened, hence why they ask you not to lock them or have a TSA lock that they can open.

  • FlyingMan says:

    Did Amex pay out for your delayed baggage? The same thing happened to me recently and they accepted the claim, then denied and pointed me back to BA to claim for essentials. They did say they to open claim again if BA wouldn’t pay.

  • Gavin454 says:

    The business platinum may be different but the personal platinum doesn’t provide any coverage as there’s a clause saying they won’t pay if the money can be claimed from elsewhere (it can be claimed from BA). However, BA will pay up to 1288 SDR (about £1365) as per the Montreal Convention and I’ve made two claims of around £650 paid quickly with no argument when BA delayed my bags at the start of two ski holidays and I had to buy/rent a load of kit.

    • Paul says:

      Not so, not only have I claimed for lost bags but did so for a family of 4 and a total of £2400. It is extraordinarily expensive to buy resort wear toiletries etc as not only are you doing so urgently but you have no idea when /if bags will arrive. Amex then claim back from BA which is why you should not claim twice. Indeed in my long history of Amex claims since 2005 I have never once had Amex quibble a claim. I made the mistake in February of claiming via BA for the IT chaos and 8 weeks later not a peep from them. Consequently have turned to Amex who can set their insurance dogs on them.

      • sayling says:

        Yet my delayed-arrival suitcase in Corfu last year and the purchase of essentials claim I cleared with Amex Bus Plat insurance before buying was initially denied by Amex, saying I had to first claim through BA.
        Which I did, submitting all the receipts in Euros plus a copy of the Amex bill showing the true sterling costs. BA paid in a couple of days.

  • Alex D says:

    I had the same issue on my flight to NCE from LHR on Thursday evening. Once the doors were closed the crew announced that no bags had been or will be loaded.

    I’ve never seen such mayhem borderline rioting on a plane before. Understandably the group of 20 or so middle-ages, well-to-do cyclists going on their Easter cycling vacation with their bikes we’re not amused.
    I guess they could go on a running trip instead.

    While there are more serious problems in the world today, the cabin manager was displaying empathy he may have learnt at the Russian School of War and Invasion. Rude, unsympathetic and told us we should be glad he wasn’t lying about the situation.

    A promise of bags on the next flight and the ground staff st Nice will be waiting to help sort out the issue helped calm some passengers. In the end no one asked to be offloaded and we departed a little later than advertised.

    I won my sportsman bet with 12C that there would be nil assistance on arrival. Indeed, there was nil assistance on arrival.

    Well done BA … what a shame they couldn’t properly brief the cabin crew with helpful advice or in fact have the ground staff meet the plane and explain over the plane’s PA what to do…

    BA

    • AJA says:

      Alex D’s post above is why I think it’s unfair to have cabin crew giving updates (or not). It is extremely frustrating as a passenger to not have your luggage arrive with the plane but quite frankly what can the crew on board do about it? They can only explain it isn’t in the hold.

      I have some sympathy for the cabin crew in these situations as it is genuinely not their fault, they’re not responsible for luggage being loaded in the hold, and other than the pilot attempting to contact LHR to find out where the luggage is (answer on the ground somewhere in LHR) there’s not much else they can do in flight. Venting one’s spleen at them doesn’t help.

  • Brian says:

    This is very helpful and reassuring.

    I recently bought Apple AirTags. Amazon had them on offer 4 for £80. These are for my car/house keys and 1 each for my 3 children. Adult children – not me tagging young children fearing I might lose them!

    I intend to switch my AirTag over to my suitcase when travelling. Whenever the suitcase comes near someone with an iPhone/iPad/Apple Watch then the AirTag’s location will be reported to you.

    If you had an AirTag in your suitcase then you would know where your suitcase is almost in real-time.

    I have only had luggage go missing once in 30 years. £20 for piece of mind is a price I thought was worth paying.

    • Panda Mick says:

      This ^^^^^^^^^! Being able to see that your bags are on the flight, and watching their mazy journey when you’ve landed is both reassuring and fun (especially last year when I had a week in the scottish highlands and islands, and needed EVERY single thing in my luggage). I also have an air tag in my caboin baggage, because I’m quite forgetful…

  • G says:

    Moral of the story here…. carry on luggage only!

    • Lou says:

      My flight yesterday: “would you like to check in your hand luggage for free?”… Erm, nope

      • G says:

        Well quite, I’m off to Berlin tomorrow. A weekend bag and a backpack for me thanks!

      • Erico1875 says:

        We made that mistake last year. Luggage arrived last day of a 7 day holiday. We spent around 400 Euro on clothes, being careful not to go OTT. Probably should have spent s bit more, but it was a beach holiday.
        BA paid out no problem.
        I agree, it’s the poor communication that compounds an already frustrating situation

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